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Guide to the John McComb Architectural Drawings Collection
1766-1829
 PR 40

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400


New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Jenny Gotwals and Susan Kriete

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on October 18, 2018
Finding aid written in English.

Scope and Contents Note

The John McComb Architectural Drawing Collection spans the period from ca. 1766-1829 and primarily contains architectural drawings. Most drawings are untitled and undated. The collection is notable in part because almost all of the buildings it depicts have disappeared (one notable exception is the New York City Hall). Drawings are one of the only sources of architectural history from that time period; this is one of the largest body of drawings from the Federal period. The collection contains 642 architectural drawings, 24 engineering drawings, 13 maps, and 60 engravings.

The New York City Hall drawings are filed by a separate numbering system (CHxxx) and described in that sequence in a logbook compiled by McComb descendant Edmund S. Wilde. Wilde also inscribed his own notes directly on some drawings and erased some of Mangin's signatures. City Hall Drawings date from [1802]-[1811] with the majority being from 1803. The series features 135 elevations, sections, plans and detail drawings for New York City Hall, McComb's foremost work. 50 of these also have drawings on their verso, for a total of 185 drawings. As City Hall has been renovated and added on to several times since its inception, these plans are an important record of the original building. In addition, the difference between the competition drawing plans and the final plans shows how the building changed while in progress. Many of these drawings were conserved in 1986.

The remaining drawings were numbered from 1-263 at some point between 1898 and 1967. In 1967 the numbering was resumed from 300-456. There are nine drawings that lack numbers, including most of the American Tract Society. Drawings span the time from John McComb Sr.'s day to the last days of McComb Jr.'s architectural career. Drawings include engineering drawings, decorative designs, studies and school problems, sketches of buildings designed by other people, and hand-drawn copies of real estate maps. The series contains drawings attributed to McComb's relatives (including 5 attributed to John McComb Sr.), partners, to Jacob Lawrence; and 38 engravings by Giambattista Piranesi and others. Few of the collection's drawings are fully identified commissions.

Among the over 100 church designs, 34 have been associated with 7 specific New York churches, including St. John's Episcopal Chapel, North Dutch Church, Bleecker Street Presbyterian Church, Ceder Street Presbyterian Church, Murray Street Church, and Wall St. Presbyterian Church. The 40 engineering drawings feature McComb's lighthouses at Cape Henry, Virginia, and Montauk Point and Eaton's Neck, New York; as well as sewers, machinery, and fortifications. The few commercial buildings include a bakery, sugar refinery, and City Hotel.

Another 60 drawings depict townhouses, including those built for Rufus King, Rev. Benjamin Moore, and John B. Coles. Plans for larger houses include drawings for a stone mansion in Westchester for Dominick Lynch, a wealthy Irishman. Several designs show double houses, an architectural phenomenon with no surviving built examples.

The 50 drawings for public buildings portray Alexander Hall, the American Tract Society, Castle Clinton, Government House, the Park Theatre (designed by Joseph Francois Mangin), Queen's Building at Rutgers, Rickett's Equestrian Amphiteatre, Vanderlyn's Cyclorama Rotunda, and the Washington Benevolent Society headquarters. An insane asylum, a hospital, and other public structures are shown. A drawing of an engine house is possibly by John McComb Sr.

Notes on the collections, the numbering system, and provenance appear in: Gilchrist, Agnes Addison, "Notes for a Catalogue of the John McComb (1763-1853) Collection of Architectural Drawings in the New-York Historical Society," Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 28 (Oct. 1969).